Wall Street Journal agrees with CEI, opposes Railway Safety Act

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In an editorial today, the Wall Street Journal joined with many other voices, including Bloomberg, National Review, and a coalition led by CEI, in opposing the overly hasty Railway Safety Act.

As the Journal notes,

[T]he bill’s main provisions are irrelevant to the Ohio rail accident and most others. Instead it maximizes work hours for union laborers and slaps mostly redundant rules on rail carriers.

As CEI and others have pointed out, there is an active investigation into what caused the East Palestine disaster at the National Transportation Safety Board. We await its results, but one of the first things the NTSB noted was that the crew – a three-person crew in this case – did nothing wrong. The bill’s mandates of two-person crews would do nothing to prevent a similar accident, because it was not related to the size of the crew.

Similarly, the Journal is right to note that the bill’s mandate for manual inspections by unionized staff is also an inappropriate response to the accident in Ohio:

It mandates that railcars be inspected by a union-certified mechanic instead of a conductor, and it directs the Transportation Department to set a minimum time window for safety checks. The result will be backed-up trains awaiting union inspectors, but no visual check would have caught the heat failure that caused the Ohio derailment.

Sensors beat human eyeballs in detecting malfunctions, as shown in a pair of studies by consulting firm Oliver Wyman in 2015 and 2021. Rail carriers in recent years have focused on developing on-board technology for heat sensing and other common malfunctions, and the mandates will divert money that could finance future breakthroughs.

A technological approach is virtually certain to produce better results than a souped-up visual inspection scheme that may well reintroduce human error into railroad safety.

The Journal’s conclusion is exactly right:

Lawmakers will always be tempted to follow a crisis with new laws they can take credit for, especially when the event is close to home. Yet there’s no excuse for passing an ill-considered law loaded with unnecessary priorities that cater to a political special interest.

As I have said before, the Railway Safety Act is a rush to judgment.